Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Golden Assassin

July is the month MADE for vacations. The weather in the northeast is warm, the sky is a rich clear blue, the kids are over the ‘stresses’ of school, and the oppression of winter is no more than a distant memory. It’s time to get outside and enjoy nature with your family. This would, unfortunately, include your dog; your big, goofy, Golden Retriever dog.

For purposes of our conversation here, let’s hypothetically call her, Kelly.

Assume that your youngest son went to visit his friend, James, who lives ’just down the road a ways’. Then, assume that your son rode his bike to James’ house and you decide that it’s such a beautiful day that you would walk to James’ house with your trusty dog, Kelly, by your side. You ALSO know that you are leaving in two days for a week-long vacation in Maine with your family and your wife’s brother and sister-in-law.

To sum up what we know so far:
· Dog named Kelly
· Youngest boy at James’ house
· Beautiful summer day
· Walking dog to get boy
· Going on vacation with family in two days

Shoot, what could go wrong? Sounds like the perfect day, doesn’t it? Yes, it does sound like the perfect day (up to this point). But wait, there’s more…

So you walk to James’ house with Kelly (the Golden Retriever) to ‘retrieve’ your boy. Kelly doesn’t need a leash because she’s four years-old and NEVER leaves your side while you walk (actually, I think she’s terrified of getting left behind – anywhere). Please keep in mind that Kelly is ‘walking freely’ by your side. This part of the story is critical to the remainder of this post.

“Hi Tim!” I say as I find my son playing in the yard at his friend’s house.

“Hi Dad!”, Tim says as he looks up from the bike he’s sitting on.

“Kelly!” Tim gushes as he sees his favorite adult living in our home (yes, you read that correctly – he LOVES that dog and she’s almost 30 in ‘dog years’).

“Okay dude, we need to get moving so we can finish packing for our trip. And don’t forget, Kelly has to go to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm (a.k.a.: The Kennel) for the week. She’ll need to get a bath and get lots of love before we take her tomorrow…”

“Can’t Kelly come with us to Maine, Dad?” my son asks with an expectant look on his face.

“Sorry man we can’t do it. We’re staying in a hotel over-looking a bay or something in Maine and there’s no way we can sneak Fuzzy through the front door of the lobby. No outside entrances to the rooms.” I explained.

“Okay Dad.”, My son said as he turned on his bike to begin the ride up the hill back to our house.

“Come on Fuzz, what do you say we take a jog back to the house and race Tim on his bike?” I ask my 70-pound ‘walking fur factory’. The dog looks up at me, smiles, (Golden Retrievers DO this) and gets a look of far-off glee in her eyes.

After an unexpected surge of apprehension, I begin my lumbering semi-run up the hill back towards our house.

By way of back-ground, I am NOT a small man. In my prime I was 6’ 1” tall. (After age-related ‘normal shrinkage’ (a.k.a.: “the collapse of most disks in my spine”) I would estimate that I am just over 4’ 11” tall)).

As for weight, I am a lithe, 228 pounds (including stress-related FAT gained during several of my wife’s pregnancies – it’s hard to be a guy…).

This being said, we now re-join our story already in progress.

Kelly, true to form runs, panting, just next to my left leg as we run ‘with traffic’ up to the cross-street near my home. We turn onto the street in lock-step with each other at exactly the same speed, neither of us surging ahead, nor lagging behind the other. I decide that it would be a good time to ‘taunt’ the dog. (This, it turns out, is NOT a good idea.)

“Come on you great big lumbering pooh-maker, move those old legs and see if you can beat me back to the house.” I said this with a fair amount of smugness in my voice (and quickly ran out of breath because I don’t run MUCH in my day to day life). I continued the taunting questioning her designation as a ‘Sporting Breed’ dog and picked up my pace to begin the final sprint for home.

As I sped up, she quickened her pace to pull even with me. Not to be outdone, I began to pump my arms furiously and accelerate my mass to its maximum velocity (approximately equivalent to that of a possum crossing a busy highway at night (a.k.a.: SLOW)).

We were now fewer than 200 feet from the house. My arms furiously pumped like pistons fueled by an overwhelming desire to ‘Beat the dog to the house to prove a point’. Years later, I still wonder what that ‘point’ was, but yet I still can’t put my finger on it. Maybe I was just trying to prove that at 46 years of age that I could still out-run my middle-aged dog. Sort of like the “Old Guy vs. Old Dog Olympics”…

We’re now 100 feet away from the house. Victory will be mine as I pump my arms and Kelly trails me by a foot, just behind me, on my left. She sensed her impending failure and once again quickened her pace. Within striking distance we both realized what was at risk. The winner of this race would have bragging rights as 'Top Dog for the Day'. I wanted the title. Unfortunately for me, she wanted it MORE.

It happens FAST. She catches me, begins to pull ahead, looks at the driveway twenty-feet away to my right and then accelerates ‘into my path’. Yes, she veers into my path (where I, unfortunately, happen to be ‘lumbering and pumping’ at the time).

In less time than it takes to shout, “Kelly NO!” I attempt to ‘hurdle’ the dog who is now UNDER me as I continue to pump (and stumble) furiously forward. She bolts across the neighbor’s yard as I come down hard on my left foot, believe that I might just survive but when my right foot comes down and I realize that my upper-body is passing my legs.

Yes, there is no longer a question; I’m going down, and I’m going down hard. I’m going to land on my face, quite possibly my face is going into the curb. All 228 pounds of me is nothing more than ‘mass in motion’ at this point.

The pavement, which is now the only certain thing which will stop this forward momentum is going to hurt – a lot.

I found I have a deep-rooted aversion to stopping 228 pounds of my body with my face. Never having thought about it before, I intuitively knew that skidding my body (on my face) to a stop on the street, or crashing my forehead onto the curb will be a really ‘bad thing’. I twist in mid-air to land on my right side. It is all I can do. It is almost enough. I miss the curb by inches but the gravel on the side of the road puts holes in most of my exposed skin on the right side of my body. Apparently my shoulder takes most of the initial hit, following by a solid rap of my head (and glasses) into the street.

I do not remember if I remain conscious throughout the entire event or not. Mostly all I know is that everything hurts. My vision is blurry and there’s blood (lots of blood) coming from my shoulder, arm, palm, and knee. Luckily for me the stones embedded in my shoulder, arm, wrist, and knee from the fall is ‘stopping up’ much of the flow of blood.

As I pull my body up to and over the curb I shout to my kids, who have gathered by the end of the driveway, “Go get your Mom! Tell her I lost! And she should bring towels, lots of towels.”

I realize that the reason my vision is fuzzy is because my glasses are gone. Nonetheless my right eye hurts (a lot). Considering everything that’s happened in the past minute, it’s kind of hard to decide WHAT hurts the most.

When I land on the street the side of my head bounces onto the pavement. The only thing between my head and the asphalt – yeah, my eye glass frames. My youngest comes out to tell me that my wife (the nurse) is coming out and he finds my glasses and hands them to me. I put out my left arm (the only one currently working) and laugh. The left side of the frame is okay, but the right side corner piece is bent to about a 160-degree angle.

My right eye hurts because when I fell, the corner of the frame is pushed into the skin directly above my eye socket. Another half-inch lower and my family will be calling me ‘Popeye’ for the rest of my days.

My wife, the nurse, FREAKS when she sees me. “What happened to you?”

“The dog. The dog cheats. Don’t ever race her.”, It was all I could stand to say.

You know the rest of the story: We spend the next three hours removing the gravel, sand, and dirt from my open ‘wounds’ and trying to figure out exactly how much damage I’ve done to myself.

Unfortunately, I know now. I messed up a perfectly good vacation to Maine (we went, but I didn’t enjoy it at ALL since every movement caused me pain), I bent a perfectly good pair of glasses to a point where they needed to be replaced, and (bonus!) I damaged the rotator cuff of my right shoulder.

Almost three years later I can still use it to predict a change in weather. All because I wanted to teach the dog a lesson. Well, I taught her all right! Now she KNOWS she’s smarter than I am.

As for me, I will never race a dog ever again. Yes, even I can be taught…

Dang dog…
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